If you believe in wins as the proper arbiter of the quality of an NFL team, the Tennessee Titans are currently in a tailspin after dropping 5 of their last 6 following a 3-1 start. What, you may wonder, happened to the good Titans team of September, and why are they so much worse now?
I believe wins are a highly imperfect guide to the quality of a particular NFL team, and we can supplement our look at wins with other things. Looking at these things tells us that, rather than being particularly different, the Tennessee Titans team that has lost 5 of their past 6 games is perhaps somewhat different from, but on the whole is basically pretty similar to, that team that started 3-1. The streaks, real though they may have been in the standings, are just another result of building narrativity around a weighted random number generator, about as meaningful as those "Chris Johnson and the offensive line getting together fixed the running game," a story that kind of went away a week later after he had 12 carries for 30 yards after the Jaguars.*
The difference between that early season Titans team and the one that's currently on a two-game losing streak could be summed up by a single statistic. In the first four weeks of the season, there were nine fumbles. The Titans ended up with possession of the ball after eight of them. In the past two games, there have been nine fumbles. The Titans ended up possession of the ball after two of them. From 89% to 22% on fumble recoveries, from 3-1 to 0-2. Combine the two, and you get a .500 team that's ended up with possession after a normal and only perhaps slightly lucky 56% of fumbles.
And that's the Titans team we've seen most of the time. They're good enough they can go about .500 against teams roughly in the same ballpark of how good they are. If they're lucky, as they were against the Steelers, the Chargers, the Jets, and the Rams by recovering 10 of 11 fumbles, they can win the game. If they're not, they'll lose as we saw against the Colts. Against better versions of who they want to be, some luck can keep them in the game, as we saw against the Chiefs and Seahawks, but on the whole Kansas City, San Francisco, and Seattle outplayed them and came away with deserved wins. They're good enough to beat bad teams, as they outplayed Jacksonville, but not so good they can do so if they make crucial mistakes and get unlucky (Jaguars ended up with the ball after 6 of 8 fumbles).no comments